One of the more entertaining features of EDS is meeting what I call the newbie attendees on day 3 of the show. They have what in the post-Vietnam era is called the thousand-yard stare. They've had so much sensory overload at this point that they have to refer to their own business card to introduce themselves. If they can focus on your business card, you're ahead of the game.
When a newbie asks, “Why on earth does anybody attend this show?” I always have the answer: Because it serves its audience. Period.
First, a little background on EDS: It has a show floor where product vendors set up booths, but the real power is concentrated up in the suites, where suppliers and their distributors meet behind closed doors. The three-day marathon is an opportunity for 75 or so distributors to meet with hundreds of suppliers. Meetings are held every hour from 6:00 a.m. through dinner. (At least, dinner is when the formal scheduling ends.)
Unlike at CES, people don't attend EDS primarily to look at new products. The show no longer has a keynote speaker or hands-on workshops. There are a few press conferences, but not many. In fact, the news media is kind of an annoyance unless you have a product to pitch. We take up time that's better spent talking to your partners.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about this. Trying to file a story while attending EDS would be just silly. It actually works for me that this is not a news-driven tradeshow. I need a couple of hours of sleep just so I can sprint from meeting to meeting.
So back to why anyone attends EDS — it serves its audience of distributors and suppliers. They are on the show's planning board and work in conjunction with industry associations such as the ECIA and the ERA, which sponsor the event. The movers and shakers have determined that their time is best spent in face-to-face meetings. Organizations such as the ECIA and ERA execute on their behalf. That's what trade groups do.
In the past, the EDS board has tried to attract outsiders by featuring a marquee keynote speaker. It has tried workshops, panels, and changes of venue. None of those really stuck. The show isn't for outsiders, so a keynote is extraneous. Most attendees already know their technology and how to sell it, so panels and workshops aren't much use. The one year the show was held in Orlando is recalled with the same fondness as the Black Plague. There are probably 100 other efforts I've forgotten about in the 20-odd years I've been attending the show.
Those in the electronics industry are always discussing whether tradeshows are extinct. Comdex is gone. CES is a circus. Frankly, I'm not qualified to attend the more technical shows. So I'm posing the question to the audience: Why do you attend EDS? Does it work for you and your company? What, if anything, would you change? And how many shows do you have to attend before you are no longer a newbie?
You'd think that, with a meeting-driven format, attendees would be rabid about getting to their meetings on time, and that missed meetings would draw ire. It doesn't. When you are late, miss a meeting, or are completely MIA, people just shrug and say, “It's EDS.”